Sermon preached on the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (27 August 2017) by the Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

Worship
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Temporary closure of Stone and Golden Galleries
7:30am Morning Prayer
8:00am Eucharist
8:30am Doors open for sightseeing
12:30pm Eucharist
4:00pm Last entry for sightseeing
5:00pm Choral Evensong

Sermon preached on the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (27 August 2017) by the Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

The Precentor looks at the changing nature of the Church of England and says "that a total immersion by the Church of itself in the secular hinterland of its buildings, without judgment and without membership criteria, will be a new baptism for the Church and restore it to the confidence it once had in simply being at the heart of the community regardless of anything and anyone."


Romans 12: 1-8  Matthew 16: 13-20

Religious people make a mistake when they believe that they have a monopoly over God. God can manage quite well without religious people and, in this morning's gospel lesson, Peter comes to full faith in Christ without the intercession of flesh and blood but through direct inspiration from Jesus's Father in heaven. 

That doesn't quite make the Church redundant because it is useful for keeping the memory of God alive and, indeed, Jesus almost in the same breath establishes the Church on the shoulders of Peter and does seem to give the Church a certain amount of authority. 

But notice that Christ's Church is established in the same breath as an acknowledgment that divine inspiration comes, as the word implies, directly from God.

The Church of England was quite good at holding in balance this healthy tension between the need for the ministry of the Church and the power of God's word to set God’' people free to worship God without fear.

It was quite good at this while there were enough people inside its church buildings on a Sunday morning to help raise the money to pay the church bills. At that point, Anglicanism – that expression of the Christian faith which existed for people who weren't its members – triumphed. A gathered community in the local church prayed for everyone else in the local community and, through this neat unspoken contract, everyone went to heaven.

Things changed when people stopped going to church – mainly because the money ran out and Anglicanism was found to be a rather expensive version of Christianity. As a result, under the current Church leadership, we are – without any public statements to this effect but equally without any public statements to contradict it – becoming a congregationalist church where success is measured by a 20% increase in the number of regular worshippers contributing to the common fund.

And certainly Holy Trinity Brompton – the home of the Alpha course and a new dynamic form of modern worship – has played its part in challenging the general decline in the church numbers. Over the last 30 years, it is estimated that HTB, as it is known, has been responsible for nearly 20,000 new Christians. 

That's impressive, except when you consider that it equates to about 650 new Christians each year over a period which has seen London's population increase by about 100,000 a year.

There are many problems it seems to me with the new approach to mission and evangelism in the Church of England. Of these, one is the use of Sunday by Sunday church attendance as a measure of success and the other is the over-reliance on the gathered community to fund the operation.

And the two go hand in glove: the more the Church becomes congregationalist, the more it has to rely on its regular worshippers for income because it has cut off its hinterland of support. But the more the Church operates as the one club which exists for the people who aren't its members – to quote a former Archbishop of Canterbury – the more it can rely on its local hinterland to support it. 

Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.

The Church's response in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the people's response to the Church's response was traditional Anglicanism at its best – keeping the rumour of God alive and planting healthy seeds of faith in the minds and hearts of people who were otherwise giving up on God. And to be doing so alongside people of other faiths was not only a loud statement of confidence in God but also a firm denunciation of tribalism.

I suppose the uncomfortable truth for a lot of us religious people is that God doesn't really need us and so, for our better reassurance, we are tempted to control God in a way that is not only very unhealthy but which is also very damaging to the truth of the Gospel. 

And of course that's where the religious laws of purity come in handy. Set a series of membership tests – or shibboleths as the Bible calls them – and see who sinks or swims. It's a great boost to the ego if you're one of the task masters but a society which has come of age – to quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer – doesn't need to take any of these tests if it doesn't want and so, instead, deserts organised religion. 

David Jenkins once said that religion is a very bad advertisement for God. Well, it doesn't have to be – if we can heed the claim that flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven and return to our roots as the one club which exists for people who aren't its members.

Of course it's all about faith and I believe that a total immersion by the Church of itself in the secular hinterland of its buildings, without judgment and without membership criteria, will be a new baptism for the Church and restore it to the confidence it once had in simply being at the heart of the community regardless of anything and anyone.

Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.